Text of the sermon almost preached on Advent 4C (December 20, 2015) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at St. Cornelius’ Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.
Canticle 15 (The Song of Mary)
When I look at the various situations and circumstances of my life, the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures, the hopes and the disappointments, the struggles and the accomplishments, I so want to find hidden within them a fulfillment of something spoken to me by the Lord. I don’t think I’m alone in that. I don’t think I am all that different from you or anyone else. I think we all want that, even if we don’t know it. We want to believe.
We want to believe that our life and existence are more than our circumstances. We want to discover a value and meaning that is lasting and not situational. We want to know and experience God is with us. We long for something beyond the circumstances. It’s not about denying or ignoring our circumstances. It’s about believing through the circumstances rather than in the circumstances. It is a different way of believing than what we are used to.
Most of the time we take the facts of a situation, as we see them, and, using reason, come to a conclusion. That’s our usual way of believing. It’s characterized by rational thought, deductive analysis, and scientific thinking. We allow the circumstances of our lives to determine or at least strongly influence what we believe about God, the world, others, and our selves.
In that regard, tragedy and violence in our nation and world will lead some to believe that evil has overcome good. An ancient Mayan calendar caused some to believe the world would end several years ago. The hardships of life can cause us to believe we are victims, entitled, and justified in our anger and resentment. Successes and accomplishments can make one believe he or she is blessed, fortunate, more deserving, or better than another. Some whose prayers goes unanswered believe God is absent, not listening, or just doesn’t care.
Today, some will hear about a young, unmarried, pregnant girl who claims that she saw and spoke with an angel, that she is a virgin, and that her pregnancy is an act of God, and believe the story is simply not true. After all virginity and pregnancy are mutually exclusive. Logic, reason, and human biology tell us so. Others will believe the story is only symbol or metaphor and, therefore, not real and not true.
What if, however, we really believed God is uniquely present and active in the circumstances of our lives, speaking a word? What if we truly believed there would be a fulfillment of the word spoken? What if instead of allowing the circumstances to determine what we believe we allowed our believing to reinterpret the circumstances?
That would be blessed believing, Elizabeth and Mary type of believing. Neither one should be or could be pregnant. One is too old. One is too young. One is barren. One is a virgin. Yet, both are pregnant. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary allowed the circumstances of her life to define who she was or limit who she might become. Believing for them is not so much about what they see but how they see. Each one believed she was more than the circumstances of her life. Elizabeth believed she was more than just a barren, childless, old woman. Mary refused to accept that she was a no-one, another scandalous woman, but believed that she was the mother of the Holy One.
Both woman saw, hidden within their particular situation, a deeper meaning and a new life. They believed through the circumstances of their lives. Each one trusted that the God of the impossible was somehow in the circumstances reshaping, transforming, and fulfilling her very existence. That’s why Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Who is the “she” of whom Elizabeth speaks? To whom are her words directed? Just a few verses earlier Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Now Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who believed….” It is a subtle but significant shift, from “you” to “she.” This is not only about Mary. It is about Elizabeth herself. It is about you and me. It is about anyone who is willing to believe, not in, but through the circumstances of his or her life. Elizabeth is speaking about the womb of humanity, the receptive, creative, and generative parts of our lives. The one who believes conceives and bears the Word of God. There has been a fulfillment of the word spoken and that one declares God’s works through the circumstances of his or her life.
It is always easier to reason than it is to really believe. It takes courage, Elizabeth and Mary kind of courage, to not let the circumstances of our lives determine our believing. It means setting aside our usual way of thinking and understanding, setting aside what is logical and makes sense, and accepting and entrusting our selves to a mystery that is bigger than us, our understanding, and even our faith.
That kind of believing cannot be limited by what is reasonable, explainable, or even acceptable. It trusts that in every moment of every circumstance the word of God is being fulfilled. That kind of believing impregnates our lives and world with hope, possibilities, and expectations beyond what is factually true, historically accurate, and objectively verifiable. That kind of believing means our life and world are larger than the circumstances in which we live. The bigger our life and world are, the more room we offer God. That kind of believing blesses and in the moment of blessing our soul magnifies the Lord and our spirit rejoices in God our savior.